An in-depth look at the Wildcats of Manhattan (Kansas), TCU's tenth opponent in 2012.
Quick question: after Monteé Ball, who scored the most rushing touchdowns last season? That would be Collin Klein, the quarterback (emphasis on "back") at Kansas State. The guy is just a machine in the redzone; this year we’ll see if he can distribute the ball in the air, as well. Rumor has it (and K-State went through considerable pain to legitimize these in its spring game) that the Wildcats are going to try a balanced offense on for size this season. That means a lot more passing. More passing makes Collin Klein is a Heisman contender.
Chew on that for a second—Kansas State has a Heisman contender; that’s almost as weird as Baylor having one last season.
He’s still going to run, and probably do that a lot. John Hubert is the other half of K-State’s running game, again. He almost topped 1,000 yards last season. The duo is dynamite. Also in the backfield, but not nearly in as highlit of roles, are JUCO transfer Angelo Pease and Robert Rose.
So who’ll Klein be passing to? The same guys as last year, mainly. The lead receivers last season were Chris Harper (40 catches for 574 yards), Tramaine Thompson (21 for 388), and Tyler Lockett (18 for 246), and Sheldon Smith (22 for 177). They’re all back; so are John Hubert catching passes out of the backfield (24 for 188), and tight ends Travis Tannahill (10 for 104) and Andre McDonald (9 for 136). So if the receivers are known quantities, passing to them more than a third of the snaps in a game would be the wrinkle; we’ll soon see. Lockett is the team's kick returner, too— and is dynamite in that role. He averaged a jaw-dropping 35.2 yards per kick return last season. Lockett was injured mid-season, but is easily the most explosive receiver on the team— perhaps the most explosive player at any position on the offense. (Fun factoid: Lockett's dad played for Bill Snyder, years ago.
Every name above is a returner. The new names begin to show up at offensive line. Three of last season’s starters graduated, and Manase Foketi, a would-be starter at left tackle, left the program in the off-season. Suddenly K-State has only 27 starts among its returning linemen, 25 of which come from senior LG Nick Puetz and sophomore C B.J. Finney. Both are excellent—Finney is a Rimington award hopeful; but they’re surrounded by young players. (Kind of like TCU’s line, come to think of it.) Redshirt freshmen Boston Stiverson and Cody Whitehair fill out the right side of the line; junior Cornelius Lucas may start at left tackle; or perhaps it’ll be JUCO transfer Tavon Rooks. JUCO transfer Ellwood Clement may figure in, as might junior Keenan Taylor. This squad is still a work in progress, and is the weakest link on the team. How the group gels will matter, and early—the Wildcats travel to OU in September.
There’s a new defensive coordinator in town in the place of Chris Cosh, now coaching South Florida's defense: Tom Hanes, who coached the secondary last season. He’s still coaching the secondary. A Washington refugee, Mike Cox, now coaches linebackers. These coaches have molded a solid defense, led by transfers, transfers, and more transfers. It's the Bill Snyder way.
Of the seven players most responsible for K-State's pretty good defense last season, four return this season.
The Wildcats must replace two good linemen in the middle of the defensive line; Vau Lutui and John Sua appear ready to take over. Both are JUCO transfers in their second seasons at K-State. The ends return—Meshak Williams (also a second-year transfer) and senior Adam Davis. This line won’t get pushed around; whether or not they are notably disruptive remains to be seen.
Middle linebacker (and former Miami transfer) Arthur Brown (101 tackles, 9.5 for loss) leads the defense (see his highlight-worthy work against RG3 last season here). He’s joined on the weakside by junior Tre Walker. The picture is less clear on the strongside: maybe senior Justin Tuggle (son of a noted linebacker himself) and senior Jarell Childs compete for that nod.
One of K-State’s cornerback spots is in good—possibly All-American—hands, senior (and form JUCO transfer) Nigel Malone’s, to be specific (58 tackles, 7 interceptions; seven!). Across from him is newly starting senior Allen Chapman. In between are safeties Ty Zimmerman— another all-star in the defense, and newly starting Thomas Ferguson.
There are just enough new starters to be unable confidently to predict whether or not this crew will outperform last year's. What one can confidently say is that the team as a whole outperformed expectations in 2011, and returns many of its playmakers in 2012. That's good coaching, serious grit on the field, and a dose of luck (K-State was +12 in turnovers, and outgained by 58 yards on average, and by fully 106.8 yards each conference game). The Football Outsider's 2012 review of K-State's miracle 10-win season is one of the more entertaining pre-season reads on the internets this month.
And the Wildcats would again defy expectations if they matched last season's double-digit win total. ESPN quantified this a little, posting:
"The Pythagorean Win Percentage formula calculates an expected win total based upon the number of points that a team scores and allows in a season.
"If a team plays 12 games and scores as many points as it allows, the team is expected to go about .500 or have a 6-6 record. If that team finishes multiple games above .500, it was probably good in close games and its actual ability may be worse than its record indicates. If it was well below .500, their ability may be better than their record indicates.
"… Last season’s results indicate that the Wildcats "should" have gone 7-6 or 8-5 instead of 10-3. They won approximately 2.6 more games than expected. That was the largest differential between wins and expected wins of any team in FBS last season and the sixth-largest differential since 2004."
Phil Steele likewise calls for a down year, and Football Outsiders predicts a 6-6 season, with all six losses coming in conference (granted, Football Outsiders called for K-State only to win five games last season).
Here at Frogs O' War, we're glad K-State has to come to Fort Worth to welcome TCU into the Big 12.